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7 takeaways from the Chicago Bulls’ season-opening win over the Miami Heat, including DeMar DeRozan already in mid-season form – Boston Herald

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The Chicago Bulls opened the regular season with a statement 116-108 win over the Miami Heat, a team projected to be at the top of the Eastern Conference this season.

The win was a reassurance for the Bulls, who won their season opener without max contract star Zach LaVine.

Here are seven takeaways from the game.

1. With Zach LaVine out, Alex Caruso stepped into starting lineup.

LaVine was sidelined to manage his left knee after undergoing arthroscopic surgery in the offseason. Coach Billy Donovan said the absence was an “expected” part of LaVine’s recovery despite the guard’s insistence that he was “healthy” and prepared to play after practice last Friday.

Caruso started in LaVine’s place. Although he didn’t match LaVine’s typical shooting production — finishing with six points and four assists — Caruso’s experience and defensive rigor helped steady the Bulls in their primary rotation.

This will likely be the new normal for the Bulls for the opening weeks of the season. LaVine is unlikely to play Friday at the Washington Wizards, but might return for the home opener against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Saturday. But it’s clear his availability won’t be consistent — and the Bulls aren’t certain when it will be again.

2. The Bulls matched the Heat’s physicality.

The most critical key for the Bulls in the victory were the intangibles they got right.

The Bulls scrambled on the floor to win 50-50 balls and matched the Heat’s physically-demanding style of play. Instead of fading into hesitant safety in the fourth quarter, the Bulls pushed the pace, seeming to shed last season’s insecurity to take calculated risks in close-game situations.

This style — especially without LaVine — was the most promising piece of the win for the Bulls, who won only two games against top-four Eastern Conference teams last season.

“We had a hell of a learning lesson last year,” DeMar DeRozan said. “All the mistakes we made versus the top teams, versus the good teams. What it really took to really compete at a high level if you want to beat the good teams.

“We had that blueprint and that’s all we’ve been stressing in training camp. That’s what wins games. The IQ, the grit, getting dirty, attention to detail late in the games.”

3. DeMar DeRozan already is in midseason form.

DeRozan gave a herculean effort to offset LaVine’s absence, leading the Bulls with 37 points on 14-for-22 shooting. The veteran showed every trick of his midseason form — sending opponents flying into fouls with the jerk of his shot-fake, floating into a thunderous third-quarter dunk, dropping a late-game 3-pointer with a defender draped over him.

DeRozan maintained his late-game dominance, scoring 19 points in the third quarter and shooting 11-for-16 in the second half. While the Bulls have emphasized the need to move away from “hero ball” this season, DeRozan used the season opener to remind the league of his ability to change a game.

4. Patrick Williams faded, while Javonte Green is still consistent.

A key concern for Williams this season was his tendency to cede too much of his own aggressiveness to feed LaVine and DeRozan. But with LaVine sidelined, this issue should have dissipated — instead, Williams continued to look timid.

Williams showed a flash of his potential in the third quarter — scoring his first basket of the night off a spin move into a jumper, then sprinting full-court for a transition layup.

Although he made several other important plays — including a critical steal with just over seven minutes remaining in the game — Williams struggled to assert himself. That minute of action in the third quarter accounted for all four of Williams’ points on the night.

It wasn’t a high-scoring night for Green, the closest competition for Williams’ position: six points, one steal, one assist, three rebounds.

But Green was still more effective off the ball and on defense than his counterpart. Donovan rotated Green into the lineup to close the game, but was forced to finish out with Williams after Green fouled out.

5. Ayo Dosunmu stands out as starter.

Dosunmu made his mark as the new starting point guard, opening the season with a 17-point, four-assist performance as he maneuvered the offense with increased confidence in his second season.

After stepping in as an emergency starter for the second half of last season, Dosunmu clearly made the leap this summer from hopeful rookie. Dosunmu showed increased poise on the ball and with his teammates, at times pulling aside veterans such as Andre Drummond to deliver animated instruction after turnovers and other errors.

6. Goran Dragić excelled from 3-point range.

Dragić made a splash in his Bulls debut, scoring 12 points while shooting 4-for-5 from behind the arc to lead the Bulls secondary unit.

Dragić scored four 3-pointers in the second quarter to reverse a slow start, holding the Bulls level with the Heat until the rest of the offense warmed up.

“Goran’s shot-making in that second quarter really settled us because I really felt like we were getting pretty good looks but our shooting percentage at one point was in the teens,” Donovan said. “That second unit, the way they played that period, certainly calmed us a little bit.”

Although Dragić didn’t score another 3-pointer after the second quarter, his veteran poise provided the Bulls with more confidence in their secondary rotations than in previous seasons, when the team was forced to dig deep into its roster for point guard options.

7. The Heat capitalized on 3-pointers.

The Heat exploited a key lack of defensive pressure on 3-point shots to take an early lead, showcasing the importance of close-outs around the arc for the Bulls this season.

The Bulls defense was slow to contest shots after being rotated, a visible weakness the Heat took advantage of. The Heat went 6-for-8 from behind the 3-point arc in the first quarter, finishing the first half at a scorching 52.9% from long range. Miami’s shooters were more comfortable behind the 3-point arc than from the rest of the court, shooting a comparative 50% from the field.

The Bulls eventually rectified the issue in the second half. The Heat cooled off to finish the game shooting a cumulative 42.9% from behind the arc, making only three 3-pointers in the second half. But this aspect of the defense will be make-or-break against similarly efficient 3-point shooting teams the rest of the season.

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